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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Trader Joe's Bibimbap Bowl

Today, we got our Bibimbap on. Here's a link that should help you pronounce it properly. It sounds like it starts with a "p," and apparently the middle syllable is stressed.

Bibimbap is a Korean word that means simply "mixed meal." So basically, we've got rice, some sort of Korean barbeque-esque meat, some carrot-like vegetables, a bit of seaweed or kelp or kale or something, and a mysterious egg-like substance. It's quite an authentic recreation of a visit to a real Korean BBQ house. You'll recognize one or two of the items, and the rest of the foods...well, you might have some vague notion of what they could be, but unless you're dining with a bilingual Korean person, you're pretty much flying blind. You kind of just get in the habit of sticking stuff in your mouth and hoping for the best. It's kinda fun. Until you get a bite of something nasty. But then you can always go back to the meats. Korean BBQ meats are pretty universally tasty, in my opinion.

To my delight (but probably to the dismay of many others) there was no kimchi in this meal. I'm not sure which amazes me more: the fact that people actually enjoy fermented cabbage dishes, or the fact that more than one culture on our planet came up with the same idea. "Hey guys, let's throw this yucky vegetable in a barrel, let it rot for a while, and see if something yummy comes out!" Kimchi is kinda like Korean sauerkraut. It's spicier than sauerkraut, to be sure, but just as nasty.

Thankfully, the Bibimbap Bowl does feature some Korean beef. Absolutely delicious. It has an amazing tender texture and lots of flavor. Too bad there's only a couple bites of it in the bowl. In fact, that's my biggest complaint about this dish. I really wanted to give this a very high score, but I simply can't praise it as much as I would like to because of the lack of its best constituent part.

The second best part of the bowl? The sauce. It's red, spicy, and flavorful, and to me it tastes authentically Korean. I've only had Korean BBQ a handful of times in my life, but from what I remember, the best sauces are quite similar to the stuff included in Trader Joe's Bibimbap Bowl.

The other 4 ingredients are also pretty yummy, especially when coated with the aforementioned red sauce, but they're not quite as special as the beef. They're all reminiscent of things I've had in a Korean restaurant, and not one of them is gross or too strange to be eaten. I broke out some leftover chopsticks we had from our recent visit to Pei Wei. It helped to make the experience even more Asian.

In summary, my score can't be too high because of the lack of meat in the dish, but maybe that's just my typical American overenthusiasm for beef talking. I'm sure Koreans, health-conscious as they generally are, don't eat that much beef on a regular basis, but my visits to Korean BBQ spots would tell me different. Although, those restaurants I've been to are probably just catering to their "Viva-America" clientele. Conversely, I can't score this dish too low, either, since my natural inclination is to compare this Bibimbap Bowl with entrees I've had from relatively high-class Korean restaurants and homemade dishes. It didn't even occur to me to compare this to anything I've ever had from any other grocery store. And therein lies Trader Joe's genius: many of their foods, this product included, simply transcend the offerings of other grocery stores.

Let's go with a 3.5. Sonia was also annoyed by the lack of meat, but overall, she was truly impressed as well. She gives it a 4.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Trader Joe's Organic Tea & Lemonade

So, I didn't grow up in Pittsburgh but have lived in the city for just over eight years now, and in the meanwhile have learned all sorts of terms and phrases known as "Pittsburghese" spoken by native "yinzers." Thankfully, I don't drop them too often except the occasional "let's redd up" (because it sounds such much more fun than "cleaning") and refuse to acknowledge many of them on principle. One phrase I have picked up a few years back was "Arnold Palmer." Palmer, of course, is the legendary golfer from Latrobe (or as the locals say, "Lay-trobe") and through some means or another, his name has become synonymous with a mix of basically equal parts of lemonade and ice tea. Did Palmer invent this concept? I don't know. I mean, he does have a golf event named after him which he founded, so conceivably, Arnold Palmer could be playing in the Arnold Palmer while drinking an Arnold Palmer. That's pretty cool if you ask me. Anyways, I thought it was just a neat little local reference until I saw it popping up more and more, to the point where Arnold Palmer has an officially licensed Arnold Palmer with Arizona Brewing. Naturally, some variations have come along the way such as the John Daly (add vodka) and the Tiger Woods (add Ambien, Viagra, and bad judgment).

Of course, probably because of copyright issues, Trader Joe's can't come right out and label their blend as an Arnold Palmer. It's not the first time such laws got in the way of a perfectly good name. It doesn't mean TJ's can't make a wink and a nod to colloquial origin of the popular name on the packaging with a golfing gentleman depicted on the front, and a duo on the back along with some old school golfing terms like "mashie" (a five iron) and "albatross" (three under par on a given hole). Plus there's this out-of-place reminder on the side to replace one's divot.

Well, copyright issues be danged, I'm calling it an Arnold Palmer, because it tastes like a pretty darn good one. The taste starts off with a good tart lemonade flavor that refreshingly and fairly smoothly transitions to an ice tea finish. In between both lemon and tea are about equally present. It's slightly heavy on the lemonade for me but not offensively so. I prefer about 2:3 ratio of lemonade to ice tea while mixing my own, and this drink hit the middle of the fairway fairly exactly like a good tee shot (i.e., like none of mine ever do). It's pretty light and crisp tasting and wouldn't be out of place out on the links. Be warned though, it is kinda sugary so expect it to be very easy to drink a lot of it trying to quench your thirst especially on a hot day. I also appreciate the fact that it is organic so it is real cane sugar and not junk like high fructose corn syrup giving its flavor. Overall, this is definitely better than par (can't say sub-par, because even though that's good in golf, it's a negative statement. Hmm).

It's not to say it's my favorite. When picking an ice tea to purchase, I tend to side more with the offerings from the regional dairy. I appreciate it now, but it took me a while out here to get used to Turner's, and hands-down my favorite ice tea is still Rosenberger's. Store and national brands like Lipton just don't hold the same appeal to me. And as I mentioned a minute ago, I like being able to mix my own blends and Arnold Palmers to get them "just right" for me.

Still, the Trader Joe's Arnold Palmer is one of the best store brand pre-made ones I've tasted. Sandy agrees. She's not all that into ice tea other than the sporadic batches of homebrewed she makes or the occasional carton of Turner's, preferring green teas and the like instead, but said she liked this overall and found it very drinkable for her, giving it a four. My line of thinking is, a four is a pretty good score to settle for on most golf holes (except a par-3, of course, but someone would take a four on a par-5 any time), and by in large there's nothing to be ashamed of for that. Four it is from me as well.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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